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Payback Time

Illustration by Richard ClarkA phony Florida boat contractor faced a fateful deadline recently: Either return $90,000 in cash to his victims or spend eight years in state prison.

Christopher Coomes, of East Naples, was found guilty in December of conning three boaters into paying cash for boat repairs he had no intention of providing. The 39-year-old phony marine contractor first targeted the owner of a 32-foot Skagit Orca fishing boat, who wrote a $25,000 check for a pair of Honda BF225 outboards. Coomes cashed the check, disappeared, and left the boater with nothing but a receipt from a bogus boatyard.

“The company didn’t exist, and the invoice had a fake address and phone number,” said a spokesman for the Collier County Sheriff’s Department. “Bank records showed Coomes used [the victim’s] money to pay his own debts and make purchases.”

Coomes conned a second victim out of more than $26,000, according to the Marco Eagle. He agreed to maintain the man’s 29-footer and order new electronics for it, including a wireless security system. When the owner visited his boat, he not only found no work had been done but that his chartplotter was missing.

The alleged con man scored his biggest haul from a Fort Lauderdale boater who wanted to rebuild his 36-foot Rybovich that was damaged in Hurricane Katrina. Coomes collected the boat, then billed the man four times over four months for parts and services. He defrauded the man out of more than $37,000 before leaving town.

“Coomes never did work on [the victim’s] boat,” said a sheriff’s report.

The Better Business Bureau offers reviews of boat-repair contractors across the country. Go to The Better Business Bureau's website.